Introduction by KK:

With the arrival of eBay and feverish activity in the second-hand market, a lot of audiophiles find old reviews useful. Simply Stax asked if I minded them running my old reviews – flattered, I said, ‘No problem!’ The only provisos I would add is that you read these in the context that they’re old reviews, they cover out-of-production models, the prices are no longer applicable, and my ears and taste may have changed slightly in the intervening years. otherwise, I hope they help you find some answers.
Ken Kessler

A few observations by Howard:

What you are reading here is the original review as submitted by Ken Kessler some 17 years back. You probably know that the ‘editor’s word is final’ and this means that this text was possibly edited when it eventually appeared in the magazine. Those of you who are sharp-eyed and patient might feel inclined to see, if you have a copy of Hi-Fi News November 1990 the changes – if any.

You’ll notice the absence of photos/images. This is because the editor and/or a colleague decide which images to include. For me to have done this for this posting would have been presumptuous. Hence no images.

Finally, you’ll notice the absence of headings and sub-headings. It’s traditional for the editorial team to invent and insert these rather than the author. Once again, for me to have done this for this posting would have been presumptuous. Hence no sub heads. Yes, I know it makes it harder to read, but as this is a very rare opportunity for ‘civilians’ to view a review before it arrives at the destination magazine, I don’t want to tamper with it in any way. Anyway – enjoy!

Howard Popeck


A sealed-back Stax earspeaker? The arrival of such a beastie would shock traditionalists as would a Ferrari SUV. But as Stax tells us, ‘For a number of years, we have been approached by numerous recording studios to develop a ‘closed back’ type of earspeaker. [It] would allow engineers to monitor in environments that have high ambient noise levels.’
Let’s face it: the only thing that keeps Stax headphones from being regarded as ‘perfect’ is sound leakage in both directions. This is not debilitating, though, and Stax has made, exclusively, open-back electrostatic headphones for 40 years. But if there’s a demand for sealed Saxes (e.g. my son gets cheesed off when I use open-back headphones in the same room where he’s watching TV), then why not meet it?

STAX’s dilemma? Doing it without compromising the very airy, open sound that makes their earspeakers so coveted.

STAX’s 4070 uses a special enclosure to house the high purity copper electrodes and ultra-thin electrostatic diaphragm, a cup assembly employing an original ‘”Bass Reflex” ventilation air structure’ and sporting large cushions that completely cover the ears. Reminiscent of rectangular open-back Staxes, such as the SR-404, the cushion forms a seal against outside noise. The sealing effect endows the 4070 with exceptional bass response, though the closed-back cup means that the 4070 is automatically at less of a disadvantage than the open models.

Stax earspeakers need energising just like Martin Logan and Quad electrostatic loudspeakers, and do not work via a conventional headphone socket. Because the energisers – which also act as the headphone’s amplifier – are dedicated to Stax headphones (ditto for other makes of electrostatic headphones), one cannot compare the sound of the energisers to anything other than the various Stax models. At present, there are four available – two each of valve and solid-state – offering a variety of features.

Supplied with the 4070 was the SRM-717, the better of the two solid-state models, retailing for £1295. It only works with the PRO-bias earspeakers, not the earliest models, and connects to a pre-amp as if it were an ordinary power amplifier, so it’s also shorn of input selectors. For the review, I used it entirely as a stand-alone system with sources with variable output, ensuring that I auditioned just the headphones and energiser, without a pre-amp in-between the Stax and the source.

In the SRM-717, an all-stage semiconductor, ‘Pure balance’ DC amplifier amplifies the balanced input, and delivers this through high-grade, dual-shaft, quad-unit volume control. A low-noise dual-FET is used at the first stage, and a large current emitter follower at the output stage to deliver the necessary low impedance. Non-magnetic material is used for the chassis, which measures 195×103x420mm (WHD). Gain is 60dB, the frequency response is stated as DC to 100,000Hz and high frequency distortion is a maximum of 0.01 percent. As operation is true Class A, the SRM-717 runs very hot. Which brings me to the valve energisers.

A long-time Stax user, I have a couple of pairs of the older open-back models – obviously called in for comparison purposes – and an early valve energiser, the SRM-T1S, long out of production but still my fave. What I swiftly learned was that, as with electrostatic loudspeakers, valves are to be preferred. While the much newer SRM-717 was a quieter and more detailed, the valve unit was more ‘open’ – a boon with a closed-back headphone design that cannot help but lessen the sense of compromise.
Curiously (or blessedly), the 4070 didn’t seem that much of a departure from other Staxes, including the Omega (round) and the Lambda (rectangular). There is no doubt whatsoever that you’re using a pair of Staxes, but with two notable changes: the bass extension seems far greater, with more mass, while the intrusion of noise from the outside is minimised but not eradicated to the level of, say, conventional studio-type cans from AKG or Beyer. (I’m assuming that my son didn’t find the outward leakage objectionable, because I used the 4070s for days in the same room as he was in, with nary a complaint.)

If you already know Stax headphones, then you’re aware that they are unquestionably the best money can buy: neutral, transparent, fast, clean. I’ve used over a dozen types, and can’t fault them, even the in-the-ear SR-001, and the 4070 is no different. So the 4070 isn’t about sound – it’s as accurate and inviting as any Stax headphone – but about the need for a sealed system.

It gets down to this: the gains are more controlled, extended bass and a discernibly greater degree of isolation. The downside is slightly less openness, and less comfort because they weigh twice as much as the other models and seem to clamp your head with greater force. At £1695, they’re exactly what you would expect from Stax. So there’s only one question to ask: do you need a sealed headphone? If the answer is ‘yes’, grab ‘em. If it’s ‘no’, buy the Omegas.


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